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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rediscovering Classic Icons

Many of the famous landscapes that we love most aren’t necessarily permanent. Now is the time to visit and photograph these treasures.

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Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The beauty of nature has captured the imagination of man for millennia. Like artists before us, nature has proven to be an endless source of inspiration and wonder. Photography allows us to capture a view of the natural world as a moment frozen in time to share with and inspire others. Due to the incredibly short human lifespan in relation to geological time, the transformation of our world seemingly plays out in super-slow motion. Over hundreds of millions of years, forces of nature in combination with natural phenomenon such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have created and shaped the scenery we photograph. What many of us often take for granted is that nature is always changing the landscape of our planet. Most of the time, these changes are too minute to perceive, with the exception of the rare occurrence of a catastrophic natural disaster. Our world is in flux, both as a result of natural and man-made forces. For these reasons, we should never assume that what we have the ability to photograph today will remain the same the next time we see it.

With the loss of these landscape icons, it raises the question, what other classic icons are threatened or prone to change, either by nature or the hand of man? To answer that question, we need to consider the forces, natural or otherwise, that most frequently impact our environment.

Wahweap Hoodoos, Utah
As recently as August of this year two classic landscape icons were forever changed—Havasu Falls in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, and Wall Arch in Arches National Park, Utah. Havasu Falls was damaged by a dramatic flash flood; in time, it will heal itself, taking on a slightly different appearance. On the other hand, Wall Arch is forever gone after losing its battle with gravity and the elements, collapsing into large sandstone boulders.

Some of the most beautiful locations on the planet reside underwater. The complex and colorful ecosystems that thrive within the world’s coral reefs are as fragile as they are impressive. Runoff consisting of pollutants, sediments and nutrients from growing coastal populations are threatening and degrading coral reefs. Other threats include overfishing, removal of coastal mangrove forests and coral bleaching—the loss of symbiotic algae due to the warming of seawater associated with global warming.

Flood. Many of the most beautiful desert landscapes also are the most prone to flash floods. Mountain storms several miles away can quickly send walls of water and debris into lower-lying canyons and dry creek beds also known as arroyos. With yearly rainfall values that are regularly low, visitors see little change in the landscape sometimes for as long as several decades. Ironically many of the iconic desert formations, textures and vistas are created by these infrequent and transforming floods. In 2004, Death Valley National Park, California, experienced a rare and extreme flash-flooding incident that closed roads, washed away hillsides, buried cars and killed two people.


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